AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman
For the first time in decades, it is conservatives, not liberals, who are on the offensive in the culture wars. There are a number of things conservatives have done well this time around, including picking their battles, building broad coalitions, and trying to unite rather than divide parents. But a key force in the Right’s cultural resurgence is ultimately the Left itself, which has shockingly forfeited the debate. For most of the last year, there has been little to no effort to actually defend the merits of left-wing positions. These days, leftists seem only capable of hurling invective at those attacking them. The American people are not responding well.
It really is not worth dignifying the arguments over whether Lia Thomas should or should not be allowed to compete as a woman by calling it a “debate”— as even those on the Left seem to know better than to deviate too far from absolutist talking points, lest the absurdity of their position becomes evident to all. There is little better evidence that even many liberals don’t have their hearts in the fight; they are kept in line by the threat of cancellation, but reveal their private reservations by how they publicly repeat rote lines like “no one actually knows what gender really is.”
All of this is a consequence of the Left creating an echo chamber where their positions are justified not on the basis that they are well-reasoned or produce good outcomes, but because they are simply asserted by everyone on the Left as the “right thing to do.” Because they are “right,” by definition, they should be done, and further debate about drawbacks is not genuine debate but a bad-faith effort to delay the right thing to do. At the root of this twisted logic is an insidious form of identity politics which states that if any “marginalized” group makes a demand, that demand must be treated as legitimate. This is true even if other members of the group contest it.
For example, even the most extreme demands made by groups such as Black Lives Matter are held to be the legitimate demands of the entire African American community. Those opposing the demands are either racists (if not African American) or not legitimate representatives of the community (if they are African American). The Left has long practiced this with Jews, labeling prominent senior Trump administration officials as “Nazis” even if they were Jewish. They are now turning this thinking against other groups, such that any woman who is pro-life is no longer considered to be on the side of women. Any gay or lesbian individual who is not supportive of the most extreme demands for sex and gender education in schools is self-hating. A transgender individual who does not believe it is fair for biological men to take part in women’s sports, such as Caitlyn Jenner, or one who has serious doubts about childhood transition, is now labeled a transphobe.
Solidarity with any identity group is defined as solidarity with the most extreme left-wing elements of that group.
Politically, this line of thinking has led the Left into a dead-end of policies supported only by the most extremist elements of the communities in question. Hence why Democrats associated the defense of Critical Race Theory with supporting African Americans, when the vast majority of African American parents want their schools teaching math and science, not radical social theories, or why Democrats believe that placating open-border advocates is the key to winning over Hispanic voters.
Perhaps even worse than causing Democrats to push unpopular policies, this line of thinking has prevented them from realizing why they even need to persuade anyone at all—which is having all sorts of insidious effects on American society.
Conservatives are now winning because they have spotted this vulnerability and seized it. The battles over CRT and reopening schools were a practice-run. Both provided compelling issues for conservatives and had broad appeal to the American public. Significantly, however, the opposition never figured out what their position was. On CRT, was it bad, but not being taught? Was it good, not being taught, but should be taught? Did it exist at all? Should it? Many on the Left tried to hurl these questions back at conservatives, suggesting they lacked a clear definition of CRT, but conservatives could at the very least point to things that were being taught that they wished to stop. The Left, unable to decide whether CRT existed or not, never mounted a coherent defense.
This dynamic extended to the Supreme Court’s oral arguments over Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Lawyers for the plaintiffs repeatedly insisted the law violated the precedents set by Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood but refused to be drawn into discussions about whether those cases were correctly decided to begin with. This purely procedural approach extended outside the court system, where the Left has argued that Roe is “under threat,” without explaining why a 15-week ban would be harmful or wrong.
With the current debates over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill and transgender issues, the Left has fallen into similar logical black holes. In the former case, Democrats have been maneuvered either to point out problems that might arise in hypothetical situations (which would often require active malice from teachers) or attempting to mobilize high school students and activists against a bill which only applied to students from pre-school up through third grade. There may well have been logistical and legal issues with the drafting, but if there was a case against the bill, it was not one the Left made. Instead, they focused on arguing that this “cannot be done,” not that it “should not.” Polls suggest that they lost.
The most extreme example of the Left’s failure to make any real arguments is the fight over the inclusion of transgender individuals in competitive sports. It is an issue that the Left themselves would say effects only the “privileged.” The demographic of individuals, especially younger biological males, who can attend elite institutions, receive the financial and familial support required to transition at a young age, and would seek to compete against women is a heavily wealthy group. Yet somehow, the Left has decided that the civil rights issue of our time is the right of a specific Ivy League student to win college athletic competitions as their preferred gender. There is no effort to explain why this is more important than any of the other concerns raised (such as biological women having to compete against an individual with a clear biological advantage). There is simply the assertion that it is necessary, and that anyone who disagrees is a bigot.
Cancel Culture worked best for the Left when it was pushed with a mixture of persuasion and force. For the last two years, the mask of persuasion and argument has dropped. The Left has begun treating everyone like they treated their own adherents for the last decade. The result is that they have helped defeat themselves – in effect accomplishing what social conservatives have struggled to achieve for half a century: making ordinary Americans hate them.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...
Support AMAC Action. Our 501 (C)(4) advances initiatives on Capitol Hill, in the state legislatures, and at the local level to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, and the rule of law.Donate Now